Life in the dark
From the worldly point of view, wisdom is about knowing how to succeed in life. The good life that we all desire. It may differ for each of us, but we have an overwhelmingly large body of knowledge about it at our fingertips to guide our choices.
In today’s world, this wisdom is almost devoid of character. I place myself in the centre of this world, preoccupied with my desires and dreams, the freedom to pursue them, and the power to acquire them.
Naturally, we all begin with this mindset. Psychologist Abraham Maslow brilliantly observes this human condition that motivates us to focus on ourselves, from our basic physiological needs to self-actualization. But unfortunately, this behaviour can turn us into selfish, competitive and aggressive individuals, leading to conflicts, pain and disappointment.
Why are our pursuits of satisfying our hunger and building our self-esteem filled with grief and pain instead of experiencing fulfilment?
The Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes writes, “And I saw that all toil and achievement spring from one person’s envy of another.”
Does envy guide our pursuits? Rene Girard, a literary critic, can give us a clue. His Mimetic theory states, “human beings desire what others desire.” That means we make many of our choices according to the desires of others — our models. For example, if a child is playing with a toy, another child who enters the room wants to play with the same toy despite other toys.
In our self-obsessed world, envy makes us constantly feel we lack something our neighbours have that brings us happiness — for example, a career, possessions, pleasures, knowledge or status. Of course, there is no problem when we desire what others desire; unfortunately, envy always motivates this.
This self-centred view of life dehumanizes us. What other alternatives can we find?
Life under the sun
The Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes uses the phrase “life under the sun” to describe our fleeting life in this world. So does he give us some insight into it? Yes, but to understand what the Preacher is saying, we need to study it along with the books of Job and Proverbs, which are part of the Jewish wisdom tradition.
King Solomon believes that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That is living well in reverence to God and humbly acknowledging his lordship over all things. But, we will be disappointed if we mistake them as formulas or laws to achieve success here in this mortal life. Instead, they are images of the path that leads to life, contrasting with the path that leads to death. The authors of the book of Job and Ecclesiastes clarify that.
God said Job was righteous, yet he experienced pain and misery. Why did Job suffer if God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked? Why do bad things happen to good people?
The author’s focus is not to establish that Job has successfully passed his test. That is not the point. Instead, God responds to Job’s complaints with many questions and then asks him to learn from Behemoth, who takes shelter among Jordan’s reeds and marshes and remains confident and not frightened when the waters of Jordan turn turbulent.
Both these books affirm that all suffering is not of sin, and all sinners don’t suffer. They often prosper. God told Job to remain steadfast even during turbulent times, which are part of our life under the sun.
The Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that this life under the sun is fleeting. He searched every activity under the sun and found it as vapour (Havel). Life is random, and we all die. Yet he concludes by saying that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments. To rejoice in all that God has given to man, which is a gift of God and not a reward for righteousness.
Wisdom calls us to walk in the paths of righteousness, not merely to be successful, but it is the right thing to do. Solomon writes that wisdom is the tree of life to those who embrace it. Tree points to the source of life in the garden, our eternal life.
Our life under the sun while living in the fear of the Lord could be turbulent, painful and unexpected. It is a hard truth to accept. However, the authors suggest to see it in the light of eternity. The Preacher hints at this by saying, “he has put eternity into man’s heart…”
So how am I supposed to order my life under the sun? Paul says those whose hope is only for this life are most pitied. Christ calls us to walk in the paths of life, participating in his divine nature. In him, all things are made new. He is the resurrection and the life, the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Life now and forever
Early Church fathers used the phrase Now and forever to describe our everlasting life in Christ and his kingdom.
Christ did not come merely to forgive our sins and take us to heaven after we die. Instead, he has come to give us life that is truly life, in the garden of God, to partake in his divine nature, which we lost in Adam.
Paul writes, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Therefore Paul reminds us to fix our eyes on this reality. Not on our life in the dark which is fading away.
The problem is “Christians” are over-familiar with the phrase “life in Christ”; hence we fail to understand this reality. Merely accepting Christ in our minds or becoming a church member does not mean we are in Christ. On the contrary, obedience to God’s will leads us to eternal life.
Our former life was self-centred, but our new life is Christ-centred. Therefore we love God with all our heart, mind and body by surrendering to his will, carrying our cross daily, loving our neighbour and being joyful in our labours.
Love is the source of our life in Christ. “Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love.” Therefore, all we are and do must be born in sacrificial love towards God, our neighbour, and even our enemies.
So what does it mean to love God? It is to surrender to God’s will in all areas of our existence. To develop holiness by ordering my spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical, sexual, relational, vocational, financial, and recreational areas of our lives under the Lordship of Christ.
In obedience to Christ, we carry our cross as he commanded because dying to ourselves leads us to resurrection life. Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” It is to let go of our pride, possessions, position, or selfish desires for the sake of Christ. Life in Christ is not about ourselves but to “be conformed to the image of His Son.”
Eden means delight; therefore, our life in Christ, back in the garden, must bear joy and peace from all our labours, despite the pain and suffering we endure in our mortal bodies. Early church counted it all joy when they met trials of various kinds.
Finally, brothers and sisters, let us walk worthy of our calling, knowing that we are partakers of God’s eternal and divine nature in Christ and reject the wisdom of this world.